More From “Mac” Conner…

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While working at his family’s New Jersey general store, McCauley “Mac” Conner (1913 – 2018) started his art training during the Depression through the International Correspondence School, later attending the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art and New York’s Grand Central School of Art. While still there he was drafted into the Navy during WWII, stationed in New York and assigned to produce training materials. Once discharged, he began his illustration career in earnest, opening The Neeley Studio with two partners, quickly in demand as a go-to artist for the Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan and other glossies along with multiple advertising accounts.

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Editors and art directors relied on Conner’s work to be up-to-date right down to the details of the season’s fashions from hemlines to accessories, and though many regard Conner as an expert with female subjects (and thus, numerous romance story assignments) he actually enjoyed mystery and crime story projects. His 1950’s era work (the examples shown here) are mostly gouache, ink and graphite on board, and are dramatically different from his later work, Conner intentionally reinventing himself during the 1960’s when he witnessed the rapid decline of magazine and advertising illustration work, which was being supplanted by photography. He turned to carefully rendered and less stylized painting and quickly became popular with romance paperback publishers like Harlequin and Warner. In his well-deserved retirement, Conner continued painting, turning to portraiture. Mac Conner passed away at 105 in 2018.

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“Mac” Conner And The Mad Men Aesthetic.

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McCauley “Mac” Conner (1913 – 2018) often said that he considered himself a storyteller more than an artist, and didn’t care if his work ended up hanging on a wall in a museum or in the trash.

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As it turned out, the successful postwar era illustrator’s work did indeed end up hanging on museum walls in the Museum Of The City Of New York’s 2014 retrospective, “Mac Conner: A New York Life” which showcased a generous selection of his prodigious output, linking his subjects and style to the so-called “Mad Men” era and aesthetic.

More of the artist’s work follows in the next post…

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The Tomb Of The Unknown Illustrators.

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Pulp magazine and vintage paperback collectors have done a darn good job of tracking down writers’ pen names and identifying cover artists’ unsigned works. But the artists and illustrators who banged out the black & white interior spot illustrations – surely for starvation rates that wouldn’t buy a cup of java and a sinker – sadly will remain anonymous for the most part, with very, very few ever credited, and even the pulp experts often stumped. I sometimes think of them as the anonymous residents of the Tomb Of The Unknown Illustrators, such as these examples pulled from a couple issues of Spicy Detective magazines from 1940.

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Prezio’s Crime Scenes.

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Victor Prezio (born 1924) is one of those unsung heroes of the postwar pulp and paperback cover art era, largely eclipsed by better known names but responsible for a lot of illustrations you’ve likely seen many times at leading retro-art and kitschy-culture sites. These two Prezio pieces almost bookend the artist’s evolving style: Early on, working as richly shadowed and every bit as painterly as a James Avati cover illustration, like the grim piece above appropriately titled “Scene Of The Crime”. Then later, much more casual (and surely faster and for less money) brushwork dashes out the scary image below for a sleazy 1966 Real Men magazine cover. Westerns, gothic romances, and no shortage of women-in-peril illustrations for the “men’s adventure” magazine market, Prezio did it all, and is (I think) still with us, but presumably retired by now.

victor pezio real men cover sept 1966

From Muskrat To Mink To Murder.

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This work week’s enough to drive me to drink. And it calls for a really large drink (and I’m not much of a buzzer, mind you).

Just like the gal down to her last few smokes in the Howell Dodd illustration from the June 1953 issue of True Fact Crime magazine, I could use a large one too. In fact, I’d be happy to pay more than thirty cents for it. But we all know that two bits and a nickel will only buy trouble, and in her case, will lead her down a bloody road “from muskrat, to mink, to murder” as the magazine’s lurid teaser lines stated.

You just gotta love those old pulp magazine copywriters.

Her Predicament.

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I think (but can’t verify) this 1957 Victor Olson illustration is for a glossy magazine short story called “Her Predicament”. Which leads to all kinds of questions about precisely what her predicament might be: Fiction being what it is, a crime may have been committed. Or, is she just surprised to discover a woman in her bed?

Dangerous Bluff.

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Illustrator Thornton Utz depicting a tense standoff for Thomas Walsh’s Dangerous Bluff (”Who would give in, the detective or the gunman with the human shield?”) from the Saturday Evening Post in 1960.

Meese’s Ann Avery.

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Gorgeous James Meese 1956 cover art for Harry Kuttner’s (1915-1958) The Murder Of Ann Avery,  the second in the Michael Gray psychoanalyst murder mystery series, which lasted for only two more novels before the author’s untimely passing at age 43.

A 30’s-40’s Era Stylist: Mario Cooper

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President of the American Watercolor Society from 1959 through 1986, Mario Ruben Cooper (1905 – 1995) authored multiple how-to books on the challenging medium, and often worked in watercolor for his commercial illustration assignments, unlike so many contemporaries working in oils or gouache. Born in Mexico City, Cooper grew up In Los Angeles, later studying on the east coast at Columbia University and the Grand Central School of Art.

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His commercial career flourished through the 1930’s and early 1940’s with covers and interior story illustrations for Collier’s, Esquire and other glossies, which included multiple Agatha Christie mysteries and hard-boiled crime fiction thrillers. After WWII he taught at the Pratt Institute, then was assigned to document the history of American aviation for the military, many of his pieces from that era still in the Pentagon’s collection. Cooper is a Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame inductee.

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You Never Know Where The Art Will Appear.

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A dark duotone cover illustration for Edward Multon’s 1963 De Gouden Berg (a Dutch book, I think) is shown above. I’ve never been sure how this all worked back in the day, this being artwork by Lou Marchetti from the 1958 paperback edition of Holly Roth’s The Sleeper. Artists’ agents resold their illustrations when they could? Or, foreign publishers just ‘appropriated’ them? The latter seems more likely, but I’m just guessing about that.

The Sleeper 1958

I don’t read Dutch so I haven’t read Multon’s De Gouden Berg. Or The Sleeper either, for that matter. But I’m going to assume that someone gets tied up in something somewhere in Holly Roth’s cold war espionage novel, since the Lou Marchetti cover art and an earlier Lion Books edition depict a damsel in distress. In fact, I think the original hardcover edition showed a fellow all in knots, so maybe everyone got trussed up in The Sleeper.

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Worthy of a novel on her own, Holly Roth – better known to some by her K. G. Ballard pen name – was a model turned journalist who then became a successful mystery and thriller novelist, but came to an untimely and mysterious end when she went overboard off a yacht in the Mediterranean.

You never where the art will appear, and you never know where a rambling post will end up.

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